Is Boxing a Martial Art ? A Fact Based Answer

Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu and Karate are those that are considered to be traditional martial arts. But does this mean that any other sort of fight form can be a martial art, as well? Especially boxing. There has been a long-standing debate on this question – Is Boxing A Martial Art ?. For this, we will have to know what exactly a martial art is.

Martial arts are defined by the four categories that exist under it, and any form of fighting must meet these four categories in order to be considered a martial art. These categories are:

  • The artform can be used in a war
  • It can be written down in a codified manner
  • It is spiritually and mentally enriching
  • It helps to preserve culture and history

The traditional martial arts each fit into all the four of the above categories. What we can do is see if boxing too fits into these categories, and if it does, then there can be no problem in terming it to be a martial art.

Can be used in a war

This category is derived from the term ‘martial’ itself, where the word means ‘to relate or to suit to a war or warrior’. Conventionally, this would mean to be able to used in an actual war itself, but tailoring it to the contemporary, and interpreting the term a little more loosely, it can be said that a form must be able to be used in a combat situation or even a life-or-death situation where self-defense can be used. So, instead of only applying to a war, the term can also be applied to situations of law enforcement and self-defense as well.

With boxing, it is a fight form that can definitely be used in any dangerous situation. When an aggressive situation arises, if one is not equipped with any weapons, they can simply put up their hands in order to use boxing techniques to defend themselves. This is an effective defense. But, even if we were to adamantly look at boxing to be suited for an actual war, there is substantial evidence to prove that boxing was, in fact, used previously in ancient history during serious combat. Such was the case with Roman soldiers, who when were bare of any shields or swords would engage in several other combat techniques, of which boxing was one of them.

Can be written down/codified

Rationale and sequence are important when it comes to writing down a fight form. A fight form cannot be random in any way when it comes to its rules. When writing down the techniques and rules of any fight form, it must be done so in an organized and systematic manner. For this, one must be able to properly convey the rules and regulations of the sport to any reader for which it must be conveyed so through clear written explanation. This is a required checkbox for a fight form to be considered a martial art. 

When it comes to boxing, the sport can easily be explained in a written fashion. Each of the uppercuts, jabs, crosses and hooks, and the several combinations of these that constitute different kinds of attacks, and the various defense techniques can be punt down in clear writing. On top of that, there are even defense and offence technique theories that can be explained on paper to be able to make the reader understand. Boxing, as a sport, can be explained step-by-step, and the various logic and calculations behind each move can be put down as well. This is because boxing is not a random sport. 

Even though it may seem so to a layman, there are several techniques and logic that go into it, which are bound by certain rules that are to be followed. So, boxing can be learnt through a textbook, though it is not recommended. On top of that, there are several strategies and techniques that boxers must learn during training to be put to use logically when inside the ring.

Enriches the mind and the spirit

A fight form, in order for it to be considered a martial art, must be able to mentally and spiritually develop the person leaning it. Mental development and spiritual fulfillment are a required element of a martial art. This is because it is important your mind is fundamentally developed as well so that it can help your body in combat since the body follows the mind. Moreover, it brings a sense of peace and clarity to your mind so that you can focus very well on combat. Spiritually, you must be able to feel content and must be able to grow as well. 

Training in boxing allows a person to develop a strong sense of will and causes a growth of their mental strength. Because boxing is a vigorous and rough sport, you need a strong sense of will and resilience in order to continue training and become a serious boxer. Even when training, there are several painful instances and injuring circumstances that boxers go through. 

But after joining the sport, they are able to gradually increase their tolerance of physical pain and fight through it. This clearly indicates a growing mental stamina and development of an ability to put up with and work through any discomforting situation. When you are in combat, you need to be ever-present in order to anticipate and defend against any oncoming attack. A boxer has to be fully conscious of their surroundings and every moment that occurs within the ring. Spirituality emphasizes on being present while in a moment and to be in full control of one’s conscious surroundings and boxing aids in just that.

Contributes to the preserving of culture and history

The last and still most important category required for a martial art is that it must be able to retain a heritage or a particular culture that it carries forward with it. That fight form must be rooted in a long-standing tradition from which it has originated through years of performance. The reason for the fight form’s continuation in today’s day and age must be for perpetuation of the tradition of the fight form itself. There must be a historical story and pertinence to the art form where it must have originated from along tradition, whether ancient or medieval.

Boxing, as a sport, is not modern in any way. There are circumstances and evidence that prove that boxing has been in practice for a long time. The first mentioned and known instance of boxing goes as far back as 3 BCE. This is substantiated by an uncovered Sumerian painting that illustrates two individuals engaged in combat using their fists, which has been theorized to be boxing. 

The Olympic games, which have been there since ancient times, had taken place in boxing around 688 BCE and from then on, has been an integral sport of the event. Romans, both soldiers and civilians engaged in boxing either as a means of combat or entertainment or both. 

The way and form of boxing that exists now is a continuance of the tradition that was laid down by the Marguess of Queensberry Rules in 1867. It is this culture and history that boxing strives to preserve today.

Since boxing fits into all four of the required boxes for a martial art, boxing very well and very substantially can be considered to be a martial art. There will exist several nuances for this argument as well. A good number of people do not believe that boxing can be and may be a martial art for a few reasons. Exploring these reasons may be good in order to understand the various perspectives of the debate.

Two main arguments come up when trying to understand why the non-nature of boxing as a martial art exists:

Is Boxing A Martial Art ? “martial” in the true sense

Is Boxing A Martial Art ?

Boxing, in its fundamental sense, is too controlled a sport. There are many rules when engaging in the sport and all of them must be followed religiously. These rules are several in number and are too controlling of an individual. This is one argument that places boxing is not ‘martial’ enough because of these limiting rules. 

When a life-or-death situation arises, one cannot conform to rules but instead they will do whatever they can and attack wherever they can in order to save themselves. For this reason, one will not be able to use their body the way they must in the true sport of boxing. 

One other argument in this realm is the purpose for which boxing is taken up primarily. Boxing promotes healthy sportsmanship and works only in a controlled environment where the matches are all supervised. It looks towards some friendly competition between two individuals. When training for combat or self-defense, it is not boxing that one thinks up to learn. So, the whole idea and essence of the ‘martial’ aspect of the sport is lost in this context.

Lack of adequate spirituality

Spirituality refers and relates to upholding something that is sacred whether in the material or the mind. Though we did previously discuss spirituality in boxing, the connection is not strong enough which may form grounds for its dismissal. 

Essentially, there are no sacred elements in boxing that can be referred to. When we talk about being present consciously during boxing, the aim is to attack your opponent while simultaneously defending yourself. However, the spirituality element that arises out of this is simply and by-product and does not itself lie in the primary intention itself. Therefore, if one were to look through the conventional lens of spirituality, then boxing may not seem spiritual enough.

These are arguments that are presented in favor of dismissing boxing as a martial art. Essentially, only fight forms originating from East Asia are considered to be martial arts. Comparatively, there are many differences that can be identified when traditional martial arts and boxing are placed side by side.


There are many differences when it comes to tactics that relate to the offense. The first would be how the punch is delivered. In traditional fight forms, punches begin from near the hip whereas boxing produces punches from near the face. Boxing has several levels of attack where there are several parts of the body being attacked at once. But traditional forms only have one level of attack at a time. Boxing shies away from outwardly moves and techniques like spinning or raising yourself into the air.


In terms of defense, traditional forms look at evading attacks completely during combat whereas boxing emphasizes upon blocking the attack itself. This is because evading takes up more energy and blocking can even allow the person to counter-attack or even throw the opponent off-balance.


In terms of movement, there are a few types of differences that exist within different realms. In traditional martial arts there are different types of foot stances that a fighter takes upon during combat and these may change during the course of the fight at different points. Boxing emphasizes good footwork and lateral footwork to have an upper hand over your opponent. 

It focuses on movement more and aims at targeting a moving aim rather than a still one. Part of the strength in boxing lies in footwork technique which may not be so much the case of traditional martial arts. Condition is a great difference for boxers and fighters. For boxers, a match ends on supervised time after which the boxer aims at getting back into a proper good condition to get back into the ring. 

Whereas, in traditional martial arts, there is no supervised and set time limit for a fight, and it may not end on an early time. So, the aspect of physical condition is not given much or greater importance in such forms which may prove to be harmful or even fateful to the fighter.

These differences demonstrate how vastly different boxing and traditional forms can be. 

If we were to look at it through a more loosely interpretive lens, boxing can be termed as a martial art. However, if strictly conformed to the categories and necessities, then it may not be termed so. However, it is interesting to engage in the debate. You can view this article as a source of information upon which you can form your own opinion.

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